An Early Modern Epistemological Turn? Natural Knowledge Production in the East Asian Cultural Sphere
3: Encountering Ecology with Philology: The Production of the Album of Birds and Qianlong's Language Reform
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Academia Sinica, Taiwan
In 1750, a project of compiling an encyclopedic collection of bird images was initiated at the Qianlong court, and it was not finished until 1761. Within these 11 years of production for this so-called Album of Birds project, bird skins and specimens were sent to the court as examples for depiction. This superficially empirical project was actually copied after another Album of Birds previously produced at the court of the Qianlong emperor’s grandfather, the Kangxi emperor. Comparing these two sets, the biggest difference mainly lies in adding the Manchu translation of the original Chinese text and the names of birds in the Qianlong edition. In particular, some of the original Chinese transliterations of the Manchu names of the birds from Manchuria in the Kangxi edition were freely translated with philological origins in the Chinese classics. Why would conducting a Manchu translation need to have first-hand materials of bird skins and specimens? If the Qianlong edition was simply copying the Kangxi edition, why would it take such a long time to finish? This paper focuses on the Qianlong emperor’s remaking of his grandfather’s Album of Birds and explores the complicated relationship between naming, imaging, empirical knowledge, and language, especially within the context of the Qianlong emperor’s language reforms taking place at this very time.